Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Premiere of the Second-String Avengers

Given that we've already seen Iron Man show up to assist "Thunderbolt" Ross in capturing the Hulk, we can take a good guess at the outcome of the Hulk's earlier battle with a full grouping of active Avengers, the first meeting between them in his own comic. The Avengers lineup at the time featured Goliath, the Vision, the Black Panther, as well as the newly rejoined Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch--collectively, a variety of abilities that arguably could enable them to deal with the Hulk. Yet, even though writer Roy Thomas was scripting both titles, the Avengers who showed up in Incredible Hulk were noticeably underwhelming, compared to the team in their own title.

That's not to say the Avengers didn't perform well in the Hulk story. But do we want to see a fighting team "perform well" against the Hulk, or are we picking this comic off the rack to read a battle issue? By the show of hands, I'm guessing you darn well want to see a battle issue. In that respect, you'd probably enjoy the Iron Man story more. The Avengers lineup, without Thor and Iron Man, still had the raw power of Goliath and the Vision to offer; but Goliath is just as vulnerable to the Hulk as Giant-Man was, which left the Vision as the only real challenge to the Hulk on a physical level. (Though a later battle with Wonder Man would give a more demonstrative assessment of the Vision in that regard.) If you were an Avengers reader at the time, you were probably noticing how often the old guard was being brought back to supplement the team's lineup in times of crisis. You'd think that a meeting with the Hulk would ring that bell as well as anything.

If nothing else, the story is engaging, and seems to be crafted with the intent to show that the teamwork of the Avengers can be effective on levels other than the obvious. Emerging from a prior subterranean conflict, the Hulk is attempting to find his way back to the surface, and being none too gentle about it. And if he keeps going in the direction he's headed, General "Thunderbolt" Ross fears the worst:

Which opens the door to Ross summoning the Avengers:

(Whoa, throttle it down, Wanda. It's never a good idea to trumpet your own press. You've only just rejoined this team--let's wait until after your first battle before telling people how mighty you all are, hmm?)

As you can tell, Ross isn't exactly thrilled with the assemblage of Avengers he's gotten in response to his call. But he briefs them nonetheless:

No, I don't know where the Hulk is keeping his jet pack, either. For the Hulk to walk cross-country, and have made as much progress as he has--and not at a brisk hike, mind you--is a bit far-fetched.  The Mole Man has definitely given new meaning to the term "short-cut."

Curiously, we learn from Goliath that the team has not just come to help Ross, but also with the goal of convincing the Hulk to rejoin the Avengers, so that "we can add some more muscle to our team"--a dangling plot that's been hanging in the air ever since Iron Man first suggested it when he departed the team and Captain America's new lineup was in place. At any rate, the Avengers set to work, and are transported with a "Gammatron" device to an area where then can intercept the Hulk. Once there, they just have time to set up before a certain hiker decides he's getting impatient with his surroundings:

Ross and his aide, Talbot, question how the Avengers plan to lure the Hulk to the surface, but there's one Avenger who is tailor-made for the task:

What follows is more breast-beating on the part of both combatants than anything else:

But the goal is not for the Vision to battle the Hulk alone, but for him to get the Hulk to follow him to the surface, and he's successful. Though with the Hulk's disposition in regard to costumed foes, particularly in light of his encounter with the Fantastic Four, Goliath finds his plan derailed almost immediately:

Eventually, the team has no recourse but to attack in force. And with this being the Hulk's title, the representation we get of the Avengers battling the Hulk is rather restrained. Frankly, the Hulk seems as bemused as we are:

Quicksilver and the Panther, of course, aren't the most logical members to take point against the Hulk, though Pietro might opt for other uses of his power aside from a direct physical approach. As for Wanda, the circumstances keeping her on the sidelines in this fight don't do the team any favors now that they're hip-deep in the struggle. Suffice to say that we're really not going to see the team cut loose in this fight like, well, the Avengers. But there's still their original mission to see through:

In other Avengers stories, we've seen such resolutions still go down in the "win" column for the team, and it would have been a satisfying enough result for what should have otherwise been, as Goliath called it, "a knock-down, drag-out slug fest." Unfortunately, Wanda saying the words "Bruce Banner" within hearing range of the Hulk gave him all the reason he needed to become angry enough to resist the Gammatron and break out of this trap:

And though the team girds to resume the attack, the Hulk instead leaps off. There's little the Avengers have to show for their efforts other than preventing a potential catastrophe in California (admittedly, no small thing), but Thomas feels we need some assurance that their presence was worthwhile:

This last panel tends to underscore how unrealistic it seems to always dust off the Hulk-as-an-Avenger plot (or similar attempts to keep him operating as one of the Defenders). No one ever seems to realize that, in coveting the Hulk for membership, the team is in effect giving no thought to condemning Banner--the one you're really trying to help, remember?--to remain trapped in the nightmare life he wants so desperately to be free of. Banner, after all, is likely to have no memory of any life the Hulk might experience as an Avenger; and there's also the unpleasantness of having team members expecting you to undergo a stressful and painful transformation to erase yourself from existence whenever they need the Hulk. It's an aspect of membership that's always been brushed aside by the writer--and, perhaps on a subconscious level, one always angrily rejected by the Hulk.


IADW said...

I would love this issue - these are my Avengers!! Except for the fact Wanda looks wrong as a brunette, Vision could take Hulk on his own let's be honest.

I completely agree with you on the Hulk membership thing too. As a founder I would've thought the team would really open their doors to Banner, especially during the times he's been 'smart Hulk'. Guess it takes a multi-million dollar movie to show some people the error of their ways ;)

Comicsfan said...

I thought the Avengers film offered some successful middle ground vis-a-vis the Hulk being a member of the group. Another interesting twist is that, in the film, I doubt the Hulk seems himself as a member of anything--and instead, it's Banner who considers himself a part of the team. (Though the Avengers at this point in time still being more of an informal gathering of these heroes, perhaps the "membership" issue is moot for all of them.)

IADW said...

True Comicsfan - they did seem to treat him more like Hyde in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but man what a show stealer. I was saying Puny God all night ;)